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German chancellor Merkel says Berlin will host Libya peace talks

MOSCOW (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Libyan peace talks will be held in Berlin, as Turkey and Russia appealed to the north African nation’s warring factions to enter a ceasefire.

“We hope that the joint efforts by Russia and Turkey will lead to success, and we will soon send out invitations for a conference in Berlin,” Merkel said on Saturday during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

She stressed that the United Nations would lead talks if a meeting were to take place in Berlin, and that Libya’s warring parties would need to play a major role to help find a solution.

The aim was to give Libya the chance to become a sovereign and peaceful country, Merkel said.

Putin expressed support for the process, saying it was a “timely” idea and necessary to bring the conflict in Libya to an end.

The comments came days after Turkey and Russia urged Libya’s warring parties to declare a ceasefire.

Fayez al-Serraj, head of Libya’s internationally recognized government, said he welcomed the peace initiative by Russia and Turkey.

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“The condition is the withdrawal of the attacking party, which does not seem willing to do so”, he said after holding talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome on Saturday.

Libyan forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar said this week they had taken control of the strategic coastal city of Sirte in a rapid advance preceded by air strikes.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army was also considered responsible for a deadly drone attack on a military academy in the capital Tripoli.

Conte said on Saturday he expressed his “consternation” to General Haftar for the January 4 attack in Tripoli, after meeting him in Rome earlier this week.

“We are working hard as a government for the immediate goal of a ceasefire and to steer the conflict towards a political solution,” Conte said.

Turkey backs al-Serraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and has said it will send military advisers and possibly troops to reinforce its support, while Russian military contractors have been deployed alongside General Haftar.

Asked if he was aware of the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya Putin said: “If there are Russian citizens there, then they are not representing the interests of the Russian state and they are not receiving money from the Russian state.”

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow, Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Giulio Piovaccari in Milan; writing Edward Taylor in Frankfurt and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; editing by Alexander Smith and Mike Harrison